Homeless people in China aren’t like the ones in America. They really have hit rock bottom. They have nobody; no one to turn to. See, China is a community-based country. If you have a need, go to your family. If your family can’t help you, you can always fall back on your friends. (I am half Chinese, have lived in China, and have visited several times – so I speak from experience!) That’s just the Chinese way. It’s only if you have lost truly everything that you have then you become truly homeless. There are the annoying street vendors – but they still have a place to go, money to be made, and connections. I’m not saying that homeless people in America have more – I’m saying that there’s a sense of complete hopelessness for the homeless people of China, whereas in America, there’s still a possibility that you can still get back on your feet. As a result, there are very few homeless people in China. I can probably count on one hand the homeless people I’ve seen, and I can barely remember them – as opposed to the plenty of people whom I’ve seen trying their hand at some instrument, running up to me, or sitting by with a sign and a cup next to them in the US.
My dad, brother, and I were on our way to a restaurant to meet up with some friends, and we had to take separate taxis. We had gotten somewhat lost, but we had just gotten back on track – but we were late and in a hurry. We crossed a bridge, and there were those street vendors again, this time selling iPhone cases and jewelry – but there was also the woman that I will remember forever.
This woman didn’t beg or ask for money; she knew it was hopeless. Nobody would save her. Her hair was a mix of black and gray – she was probably near 80 years old. Her skin was very tan (a mark of hard labor/poverty in China) with deep wrinkles all through her face. She was wearing tattered clothes, sitting on a thinned out piece of a once-white piece of cloth. An old, dirtied, empty cup sat to her side. She wasn’t looking up – instead, she was hunched over. Totally desperate. Completely heartbreaking.
My dad stopped, took out 20 yuan (about $3.50, but in China, this can amount to about 2 McDonalds) and dropped it in her cup, saying “耶稣爱你” － Jesus loves you. The woman immediately looked up. She smiled, thanked us the most grateful thanks I have ever received, and put her hands together while bowing her head – a Chinese thing to do when you’re extremely thankful to someone – even while we walked away. We smiled at her while she kept bowing.
We kept walking. My dad, brother, and I didn’t talk about it after we left her. We went to the restaurant, had a good time with our friends, and that was that for the day. But the memory of this woman on the bridge in Beijing keeps coming back to me. What a difference the a small gift – a little money, a smile, and the fact that Jesus loves you – can make. That woman is still probably sitting on that same bridge, and it is highly unlikely for me to ever see her again. But that woman has taught me that in all our hopelessness and desperation, what we need is a smile and Jesus.
“In this life, we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” -Mother Teresa